After reading this comment on yesterday’s post on Ed Feser’s remarks about the Reason Rally, I decided I’ve heard the phrase “New Atheists” one too many times, especially when there’s an explicit contrast between the “New Atheists” and those better atheists out there. Let me tell you something: the label is a lie. When people use it, it’s because they want to believe that the views of people like me and Richard Dawkins are rare, historically speaking, because that makes us easier to dismiss.
Let’s set the record straight. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, said:
My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.
Russell wasn’t the first person to say things like that. Not even close. Here’s another quote:
But since all these abuses, as well as all the other abuses and errors I spoke about, are only based on the belief and persuasion or opinion that there are gods, or at least, that there is a God… it is necessary now to prove and show clearly that men are still deceived in this an that there is no such being, i.e., there is no God. Consequently, men falsely and abusively use the name and authority of God to establish and maintain the errors of their religion, as well as to maintain the tyrannical power of their princes and kings.
That was said by a French priest named Jean Meslier. He wrote it in a book about religion that he left for his friends to find when he died in 1729, because it would have been too dangerous to say while he was still alive. In other words, people have thought religion is extremely harmful since before it was safe to say so publicly.